Valdosta City Manager, sewage spills, and trash 2023-07-18

After I complimented them quite a bit yesterday, I fear I must do so again today: Valdosta City Manager Richard Hardy and Assistant City Manager Catherine Ammons.

Yet there is still room for improvement on sewage spills, and ample room on trash and Click ‘n’ Fix, as well as generally on letting the public know what the city of Valdosta is doing to fix problems that affect waterways and the public.

[Valdosta officials and recent sewage spill reports 2023-07-19]
Valdosta officials and recent sewage spill reports 2023-07-19

Not only did they get a press release out for yesterday’s sewage spill the day after the spill. After I sent GA-EPD that WWALS blog post, the state replied at 8 AM this morning saying that spill was in today’s GA-EPD Sewage Spills Report. Indeed it is, and already picked up by the WWALS automated software and on the WWALS website.

The Assistant City Manager asked what I thought a reasonable time was to get a press release out about a sewage spill, and I answered that specific question (certainly not five days, and as soon as the city knows what’s happening).

Here’s the answer I should have given, since it’s not what I think, it’s who we are all trying to protect. People who fish, swim, or boat on the river or in the creeks need to know when there is a health hazard. So as quickly as practically possible, preferably by the day after the spill, or even the same day. Especially for weekends, when the most people do those things, please get the press release out before the weekend, and that does not mean after 5 PM on Friday. Plus post it on the city’s website and on the city’s own social media.

As I promised in the meeting with the city officials yesterday, I have filed an open records request for the letters Valdosta sent GA-EPD informing them of those spills. We’ll see where the long delay was on the previous spill reports.

More about sewage spills

Sewage spills were the third item I discussed with them. I also recommended they might want to look into whether they had had even more spills into Knights Creek, as Valdosta’s own followup testing from their previous spills on E. Park Ave. indicates might have happened. It’s great that those test results are posted on Valdosta’s website. And that the river testing results required by the Consent Order are being published in a more timely manner lately, using within a business day or two of the sample date. (For the upstream results htat are processed by City employees. Downstream results handled by contractors are often two weeks late.)

They said they would look into it. I suggested perhaps more regular testing on Knights Creek while they’re still working on fixing that ever-collapsing sewer main. We’ll see.

Click ‘n’ Fix tickets and trash

Second item was keeping Click ‘n’ Fix tickets open in Currently, when a ticket goes to Valdosta City Marshalls, typically it’s closed, so the submittor (and whoever is watching) does not know what is going on after that. As I also previously discussed with Valdosta Community Protections Manager Anetra Riley and City Engineer Benjamin O’Dowd, City Marshalls could instead post on the ticket that they sent a notice and the recipient has 30 days to respond, ditto about a citation or a court case. The City Manager and Assistant had reservations about the time that would take and possible legal problems. I’m really not buying the time argument, since the Marshalls have all the details at their fingertips, and it would take less than a minute to post a sentence in Regarding legal issues, I suggested they consult with the city attorneys.

I also suggested again that when the city closes a ticket, they file a description of what was fixed and a picture, like they require of citizens who file a Click ‘n’ Fix report. They seemed to think fixed means fixed. I mentioned a case or two where fixed clearly did not mean fixed, as anybody could see by walking by the site. We shall see.

I think I heard a sentiment that people should trust the city to do its job. Well, it’s great that there is some motion lately, in deploying trash traps, in city-organized cleanups, and especially in City Marshalls issuing notices and if necessary citations to all parking lot owners.

In the meeting they did promise to look at one of the more chronic problems: the trash next to Three Mile Branch upstream of Country Club Drive, which has been reported at least since February 2022. Sure, it’s on private land. But City Ordinances say landowners or managers must not let trash escape and strategically-placed trash cans are required in parking lots. We shall see.

Valdosta has been promising to do something about this ongoing trash spill problem at least since 2007, sixteen years ago. Most of that time they did pretty near nothing. I compliment the current City Manager and Assistant City Manager for some welcome forward motion. And I recognize that some things take time.

But often not as much time as actually happens. Just yesterday’s meeting took a month to organize, and I had to get the City Clerk to make it happen.

Valdosta’s trash problem is like its sewage problem in that it has been a problem for so long that it is going to take years of dedicated action for people to come to trust the City of Valdosta about it.

River Cleanups

I believe I heard that the City cares about people downstream and the general public. That’s great.

However, when I invited the city officials to the Withlacoochee River cleanup this Saturday and the other one on August 5th, they were both too busy. Sure, the second one was only just scheduled. But I sent the City Manager an invitation to this Saturday’s outing two weeks ago.

After all, it is mostly Valdosta’s trash we the dedicated volunteers are cleaning up from the Withlacoochee River. A bit more direct participation by the City of Valdosta City personnel would be welcome.

However, they did say they might send somebody to say a few words as we set out, which would be great. And both City Council Andy Gibbs and Mayor Scott James Matheson say they will paddle Saturday.

The map on the table in the picture is of impervious surfaces in Valdosta, prepared for WWALS by the Southern Georgia Regional Commission (SGRC). It shows mostly parking lots, with buildings and streets.

[Impervious surface in Valdosta --SGRC]
Impervious surface in Valdosta –SGRC

I complimented the city officials on trash cans getting strategically placed in parking lots as required by city ordinances. Recent examples include the city’s own parking lot in front of City Hall, as well as Academy Sports, TJ Maxx, Ollie’s and Michael’s. Most of those are likely the result of those notices and citations by City Marshalls.

Yesterday I made a point of complimenting the City of Valdosta about what it has done (even more than I have in this post).

But there is much more to be done.

For more about the trash situation, see:

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can help with clean, swimmable, fishable, drinkable, water in the 10,000-square-mile Suwannee River Basin in Florida and Georgia by becoming a WWALS member today!